Who decides what’s appropriate to wear?


I couldn’t stop thinking about this necklace, handmade by Amanda Slabosz, who calls her series Lacersuite, so I decided I had to have it. (PS, I’m sure the shorts I’m wearing in this photo are too flashy and too short for a middle-aged woman. Harumph.)

When I recently bought a honking huge breastplate of a necklace, the young man working at the shop asked politely if I had an occasion I was buying it for.

No, I said with a smile. I will make an occasion. Then I busted it out at one of our favorite neighborhood bars with shorts and a T-shirt.

Earlier this year I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s creativity manifesto, “Big Magic,” and so much spoke to me: her thoughts on the dedication required to make time for creativity, on being gentle with yourself when your results are disappointing, and on the stereotype of the suffering artist fetishizing agony like it’s a requirement of creativity.

Maybe it seems trivial compared to a conversation on how writers and musicians and artists bring their creations to life, but one idea I took away was that I didn’t want to censor myself on dressing flamboyantly.

This might surprise some of my friends, as I’ve long appreciated clothes, jewelry and shoes with flair, but I often dial it back. I look at something in my closet that’s calling to me and I resist, “Oh, that’s too much for today.” That’s too flashy, too dressy, too whatever.

Though the 10 years I’ve been in New York are apparently long enough to give myself permission to buy some pretty outrageous items, the Midwesterner in me worries my choices might be too far from the norm. I imagine arriving at a party, a restaurant or the office and all of a sudden it’s middle school again and the cool girls are snickering.

Elizabeth Gilbert wrote in a chapter titled “Decorate Yourself”

I also want to live the most vividly decorated temporary life that I can. I don’t just mean physically; I mean emotionally, spiritually, intellectually. I don’t want to be afraid of bright colors, or new sounds, or big love, or risky decisions, or strange experiences, or weird endeavors, or sudden changes, or even failure.

In that, I read the bright colors of a vividly decorated life as being the physical embodiment of the rest — that putting on that over-the-top necklace flexes the same muscle as trying a strange experience or taking risks. It’s dressing in a way that expresses my true self instead of worrying what people will think.


When I first tried on this dress, I looked at that hemline in the mirror and wondered if it was a bit much for a woman my age. Then I figured if Tina Turner can do it …

Gilbert wrote:

When I was in my insecure twenties, I met a clever, independent, creative, and powerful woman in her mid-seventies, who offered me a superb piece of life wisdom.

She said: “We all spend our twenties and thirties trying so far to be perfect, because we’re so worries about what people will think of us. Then we get into our forties and fifties, and we finally decide to be free, because we decide that we don’t give a damn what anyone thinks of us. But you won’t be completely free until you reach your sixties and seventies, when you finally realize the liberating truth — nobody was ever thinking about you, anyhow.”

And what if what they were thinking is “Bravo!”? Spending a good amount of time in New Orleans these last several years, including celebrating Mardi Gras there twice, has given us the chance to revel in a costume culture where no one’s likely to bat an eye if you wear a bright green beehive wig riding your bike down the street or wear a chicken costume to the bank — but when someone does say something, it’s likely to be a compliment. Ditto for Burning Man, where creativity in all forms is encouraged and the wilder the costume, the more likely you are to have strangers praise you.

The Red Hat Society draws its name from a poem written by Jenny Joseph that starts:

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.

But why should we wait until we are old women to go out into the world in the flashy outfits that make us smile?

fluevogsSusan D Luks cape

So I might wear my spectacular long red cape by Susan D Luks — her name is deluxe, friends –– just because I am in the mood.

I might pair it with the bright blue velvet boots that never fail to draw stares. The John Fluevog website says they’ve appeared on Dee-lite’s debut album World Clique and Madonna wore them in Truth or Dare, but maybe I’ll just wear them because it’s Tuesday.

A member of one of my favorite Facebook groups recently shared a link to a blog post headlined, “24 things women over 30 should wear.”

It’s a cheeky response to a post that had annoyed me, too, “24 Things Women Should Stop Wearing After Age 30,” suggesting we really ought to know better than to wear leopard print or short dresses after our 20s.

The blog Warning: Curves Ahead goes on to illustrate what we ancient creatures should wear with 24 photos of women over 30 wearing all manner of flashy, fabulous outfits, captioning each as “Whatever the fuck they want.”

Sorry, delicate readers, if the f-bomb caught you off guard, but that is precisely what I shall be wearing.

Categories: creativity, lifestyle

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